Movie Review: 'Krampus' (2015)

“Krampus” is an odd movie, which owes most of its idiosyncrasy to its attempt at merging two incredibly disparate genres with distinctly opposing tones: the genial, family friendly nature of Christmas movies and the disorienting mayhem of horror. In “Krampus”, the outcome of these hot and cold genres colliding is a thunderstorm of filmmaking.

Opening on the warm glow of a family readying their home for a visit from their extended relatives, the movie starts off innocently as the culture clash between the two families’ differing ways of life becomes quickly evident. With the residing family representing the suburban narrative on American living and the visitors providing a more bucolic voice to the choir.

There are unmistakable odes to the modern Christmas classic “Nation Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. The homages most recognizably coming in the form of David Koechner’s Howard as an apt stand-in for Randy Quad’s infamous Cousin Eddie. As the struggling couple trying to reconnect over the holidays, Adam Scott and Toni Collette's characters shoulder duties in the role of the frazzled Griswold patriarch.

The awkward energy of the families’ encounter is satisfying on the humorous side of the story. Then the horror happens. After being bullied by his cousins for believing in Santa and having his letter to St. Nick read aloud with the purpose of humiliating him, young Max (Emjay Anthony) rips up his Christmas letter; unwittingly summoning the wrath of Krampus. For those unfamiliar, Krampus hails from Germanic folklore and is basically the yin to Santa’s yang.

Whereas Santa rewards children for being good, Krampus punishes them for being bad and in the case of movie Krampus, reprimands them for losing their Christmas spirit. Throughout the remainder of the movie, Krampus and his minions (evil gingerbread cookies, elves and toys) lay siege to the house, relentlessly accosting its residents. 

The campy nature of the initial villains allows one some breathing room with regards to the scare factor they elicit. It’s only in the movie’s second half that the grotesque imagery soars into unfriendly territory for kid audiences. Appearances can be deceiving and despite having a kid-filled cast, “Krampus” is an adult movie, which is unfortunate because there is a good moral in it for kids and people in general.

Families putting their differences aside and banding together to survive serves as one of the many takeaways. Along with learning to appreciate said differences and coming to see each other in a new light. Not to mention the oodles of metaphorical philosophy one could potentially sift through.

Before Krampus or company make an appearance and start stirring things up, the beginning meanders for a while. The soundtrack plays too softly as the gauche familial interactions are given little background noise to accompany them. It all makes for an uncomfortable opening quarter.

The uneven energy continues until the second act, where the movie takes a completely nightmarish detour, it never turns back from. From there it fully commits to its descent into utter madness.

Up until that point, it can’t quite decide if it’s going for dark cartoonish humor (evil gingerbread cookies) or straight up sinister horror, as seen with the rendering of Krampus. It’s this back and forth that makes the movie tumultuous in its overall quality.

However, it does manage a highly inventive animated sequence when it comes time to tell the grim backstory of how grandma knows so much about Krampus. It’s a scene indicative of the movie’s keen ability to maneuver around gloomy scripting and turn out something lighter and creatively satisfying.

Where director Michael Dougherty gets so much right is in trusting the chemistry of his cast. The ensemble makes for a believable family unit and the cast more than nails the crackling dynamics between its diverse members. Adam Scott is spot on as the kind-hearted hipster dad vs. David Koechner’s scene stealing role as the rambunctious Howard.

Allison Tolman warms hearts as Linda, Howard’s steadfast wife and loving mom to their kids; while Toni Collette contributes necessary layering to her role as Linda’s uptight perfectionist sister. As far as scene stealers go, Conchata Ferrell equally vies for the title as the crew’s grumpy Aunt Dorothy. The cast of kid actors really knock it out of the park, offering one of the best assemblies of child performances in some time.

“Krampus” goes a bit off the rails in its final act and a much anticipated appearance that never comes to pass feels like a missed opportunity that goes frustratingly unexplained. To its credit, the ending will give audiences more than enough to think about and debate for some time to come.

Most of the movie’s faults can be chalked up to ambition and that is never a bad thing to fail against. As a perfectly wrapped film, “Krampus” doesn’t quite get there. As a gift to the quirky Christmas/horror genre, it suffices. Rating: 6/10

1 comment

  1. Yup. Based on the review I read by Al Ridenour, one of the co-founders of the LA Krampusfest, you've been generous. ;-)

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